The rain had stopped but the mist clung to the Autostade where the Americas vs. Europe track-and-field meet was about to begin. The stands were built to hold 25,000, but less than a third that number were in them—and who could tell how many had simply spilled over from Expo 67, lured across Route Bonaventure Road by merely another set of bright lights?
Across the boulevard on the islands dividing the St. Lawrence River from the Lemoyne Channel of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Expo continued to jump. The Hovercraft, the vessel that rides on air, had gone down in fumes the evening before when it took a hit right in the plenum and became just another wet-bottomed boat, but it was now back in operation and packed to the gunwales with Expopulators (the Montreal Gazette's word for the people who have been visiting the pop and popular fair in unexpected numbers) as it roared across the channel to the exhibits on Ile Sainte-Hél√®ne. Fainting records continued to be set in a wooden pyramid of a building where the Man and his Health exhibit offered—in unmistakable color—open-heart surgery and the birth of a baby. A man from Manitoba asked the usher why they did not have seats for the viewers so they would not make such a clunk when they fainted. "Ah, but monsieur," replied the usher, "how then would we know when they have fainted?"
At the Autostade, however, enthusiasm was well under control. The promoters tried to make up for the lack of over-weening enthusiasm with fanfaring trumpets and roving spotlights, but the spotlights served only to further illuminate the shoddy condition of the infield where, in order, Expo had paraded circus elephants, soccer players, soldiers demonstrating war, Maurice Chevalier, lacrosse players and horses, all helping to rip up the turf in the days preceding the meet. Three times the infield had to be re-sodded. The track itself, a rubberized asphalt produced by Uniroyal, had been laid down only two days before the meet began.
When the Europeans came on the field for the opening ceremonies they were dressed in new stark-white uniforms with blue trim and an E on front. They were eight abreast. Their heads were held high, their columns kept straight and they looked like the Coldstream Guards. The Americans, by awful contrast, looked plain cold. There were only 21 of them, about half the team. Tiny little patches that identified them as "Americas" had been sewed on their dark blue suits to cover their Pan-Am Games and USA insignias. They advanced in a kind of moving slump, their heads turning this way and that as if they were inspecting a strange place.
August 20, 1967
Adrian Paulen, head of the European delegation, and a little Dutchman who 40 years ago was himself an Olympic runner, said he could not believe it. He had been busy pushing photographers around and shooing unauthorized people off the infield ("I suppose they think I am a mean man; maybe I am") and trying to get this meet to look less like a free-for-all and more like the significant international event it was supposed to be. And now this. He said it looked like the Americans were not taking it seriously, which was bothersome since the Europeans were. They had been getting ready for four months through a series of elimination meets, he said. The only reason the Russians were not there was because they were involved in their 50th-anniversary Spartakiada, but they would surely not miss the next one.
"We will have 80,000 people watching in Stuttgart, if it is held there in 1969," he said. "You can quote me." The meet, he added, would be the "highlight of the year" for the Europeans. He did not understand the Americans.
"We thought it would be a big team," he said, "with new uniforms like ours, and here we look and they have on these clothes, and one man still has USA on his chest, and some of their good men are not here. I feel we have lived up to this occasion more than they have. But this is the first meet between the continents. Let us see how it goes, and then let us live up to it in the future."
How the meet went was how it looked. The classy Europeans were stronger than even their own experts believed, although no one had flat-out predicted an American rout. They won 109-100 as their men, rallying from 10 points down after the rainy first night, took six of the 10 events on the second night, when the rain turned to wind and cold and the crowd was even smaller. In five of those events they finished one, two. The European women won 60-55. The Montreal press, woefully uninformed about track and field, called the Americas team "second-class."
It was not second-class. Ralph Boston is not second-class; Ron Whitney is not second-class; Randy Matson, Wyomia Tyus, Willie Davenport and Otis Burrell, to mention only some of the team's stars, are not second-class. What the team was was incomplete. And disoriented. And tired. And finally, after a day of arguing with AAU officials over the ramifications of travel allowances and those make-do uniforms, very angry.
The team's defeat raised not so much the question of its ability as it did an old wound of a dilemma: How far should track-and-field athletes be extended and to what pains must they go before being used by track promoters becomes being abused by them?
It has been a long, hot, inordinately busy summer for track in the U.S. In past years the season would have ended with the NCAA and AAU championships in late June, except every fourth year when there was an Olympics to prepare for. Recently, the Pan-Am Games, the U.S.-Russian meet and some inconsequential overseas meets that did not require peak performances were added, not all in the same year. But after the AAU meet this year there were the U.S.-Commonwealth Games in Los Angeles, replacing the Russian meet. Then, for no better reason than to help Minneapolis promoters, there were the Pan-Am trials. (Previously, the AAU championships had served as trials.) Next the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg. Then this Americas-Europe meet in Montreal and, immediately after that, major meets in London, Germany and Italy. Then the World Student Games in Tokyo at the end of the month, to be followed, after a relatively longer interval, by the Little Olympics in Mexico City.
The AAU and Olympic committees, made up of nonperformers, evidently did not see the piling on of meet after meet as such a hard case of overextension. Promises were made that there would be top representation at the meets. As a result, Distance Runner Jim Ryun's fine name got dragged around a bit in Winnipeg and Montreal because he chose to stay home and tend to his photographic assignments for the Topeka Capital-Journal and to get rested up for his European series with Kipchoge Keino.
There is little doubt Ryun would have scored points for the Americas at Montreal. And so would have Charlie Greene and Jimmy Hines and Tommie Smith in the dashes; Wade Bell in the 800 meters; possibly Gerry Lindgren and Van Nelson in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters; Paul Wilson in the pole vault and Ed Burke in the hammer. Most of them just had other plans. Taking time off before going to Europe was the most popular other plan. Lindgren, at the last minute, discovered he had to get his passport renewed (for Europe, not for Canada). The AAU called Lou Scott at one o'clock Wednesday morning, Scott said, and told him to get up to Montreal right away. He would have to run Thursday night. He arrived at midnight Wednesday. "I couldn't get to sleep until after 3 a.m.," Scott said. He finished last in the 5,000 meters.
Make no mistake about it: international track-and-field meets are as much to the benefit of the athletes as they are to the promoters and the countries represented. But it can get pretty provocative the way the athletes are sometimes treated. Eight-in-a-room at Winnipeg, for example. At Montreal, the freshly laid track turned out all right, but the sprinters were provided antique starting blocks (the Europeans thoughtfully brought their own) that had to be refashioned. There was no provision, either, for any kind of hospitality, or even a tour of Expo. It would cost too much, said one Expo official and, besides, they would not have time to make such a tour. It would take five hours, he said. Instead the athletes were given passes and left to run the maze alone. Sprinter Jerry Bright said a bunch of the guys went to the La Ronde entertainment center at Expo for a couple of hours on Monday night and that was that.
But this is the system, and the athletes are expected to keep the show on the road no matter what the inconveniences. Even now a major international meet is being planned for the already crowded schedule next spring as part of the AAU's ambitious $10,000,000 fund-raising project.
On Wednesday, with the meet barely hours away, a management-labor crisis came to a head. The U.S. athletes, half trying to keep the business quiet, preferred to call it a "classified meeting" with "three men who represent a certain organization." What it all amounted to was two meetings, each lasting about an hour and a half. Colonel Don Hull, executive director of the U.S. AAU, was called in to arbitrate. Ralph Boston more or less served as spokesman for the athletes. The main contention was that the round-trip tickets the U.S. Olympic Committee had given the athletes to travel to the Pan-Am Games and back to their homes should be theirs to do with as they pleased. The AAU wanted those who were going on to Europe to surrender the tickets to the AAU in return for tickets home from the last European meet. The athletes balked, to put it mildly, and, at one point, they talked of pulling out of the meet. All the athletes except two gave their Olympic Committee tickets to Boston to hold until the matter was concluded. Colonel Hull eventually settled in their favor.
The argument then moved from travel to apparel. The Americans wanted to know why they were not given new uniforms so they could be as spiffy as the Europeans. They also wanted to keep the uniforms. This is an old practice with international competitors.
"Instead of building up for this meet," said U.S. Sprinter Willie Turner, "we spent the whole day arguing with this certain organization." Boston said nobody was up for the meet anyway; they were either looking past it or behind it. For Boston himself, the meet was a minor tragedy. He is the world record holder in the broad jump. This time he was able to finish no better than third to 19-year-old teammate Bob Beamon and Britain's Lynn Davies, who had beaten Boston at the Tokyo Olympics. The next night, Bob Seagren, the second best pole vaulter in the world (17'7" to Wilson's 17'8"), did not even complete a successful vault he started and fouled out at 16'¾". "Unbelievable," he said.
Meanwhile there were some excellent showings by the Europeans for the Americans to consider seriously before Mexico City: Sprinter Roger Bambuck of France upsetting Turner in the 100-meter dash, for example. And French Pole Vaulter Herve D'Encause's winning vault (17'¾"); and West Germany's Franz-Josef Kemper's stylish win in the 800 meters. Too, the obvious potential of the long-legged Polish sprinter, Irena Kirszenstein, who was a fast-closing second to Wyomia Tyus in the 100—Wyomia had to lunge at the tape to win, sprawling onto the track as she finished—and Miss Kirszenstein's subsequent easy victory in the 200.
The finest performances of the two-day meet, however, belonged to two courageous women, Vera Nikolic of Yugoslavia and Madeline Manning, the 19-year-old sophomore from Tennessee State. After a sizzling 58-second first quarter in the 800 meters they strove shoulder to shoulder around the last turn, brushed each other and almost fell in a merciful heap at the head of the stretch and then recklessly spent their remaining energy battling, about a millimeter apart, to the finish. Miss Manning won, a phototimer declared. Both were just a second and a half off the world record, which was some exposition on a cold, windy night in Montreal.
It was, no matter how this inaugural turned out, a good meet that makes sense, the Europeans against the Americans. It just did not need to be held in the zoo that Montreal is these days, nor did it need to be snugged into the middle of an overactive summer. When it gets to Stuttgart, or back to Los Angeles, say in 1971, it will indeed draw well and people will awake to its importance. As it was, the French-Canadian cab driver's reply, when asked if he had had a chance to get to the Autostade for the meet, best sums it up: "The Autostade, ah, yes, the Autostade," said the driver. "Maybe I did. I don't remember."